The Power of Presence

How is it that just being present with another person can make them so uncomfortable?Social-Eating

The other day my wife and I went out to a local pub with some psychology resident friends for a chance to catch up on the events of the week. Conversation turned, once again, to our favorite topic: Defenses. Defenses, as we’ve talked about before, are all the different ways we use to cope with (or avoid) the feelings that come up in our day to day life. They are normal, and necessary. It can be really hard to go about our daily lives just feeling everything “as it comes”. When used in a healthy way, our defenses are there to help us put away our feelings until the time is more appropriate. Our defenses become a problem when we start using them to avoid our feelings all the time. At any rate, as we began to talk about defenses, my “therapist hat” slipped on, and here is what I noticed:

1) I was immediately more “present”: What I mean is, as I put on the “therapist hat”, I became much, much, more aware of everyone’s physical and emotional states. I could sense if they were tense or at ease, happy or frustrated, even appreciative.

whoareyou2) Being present had a huge impact: Just being fully present in that moment changed the quality of the questions and the answers. Surface level conversations vanished (talking about the whether) and those we were engaged with started to take a look at what was going on underneath their own defenses.

 

3) It was a “party trick”: At some point the conversation turned back to lighter topics and much of the tension lifted. As we started to talk about what had just happened in the past 15 minutes, the act of being present was described as a “party trick”. Even though our group was made up of a psychiatrist and psychology residents, being present was so far outside of social norms that it felt like a trick!!!

So, why should being present be so uncomfortable?

When you become completely present “in the moment” with another human being, you are sending a powerful message. You are saying “I want to see you for you, and what you have to say matters”. Being present is how you reach out to another human being and say: “let’s connect”.

If you’ve had any experiences in your life where connecting with another individual has had bad outcomes, and most people have, (anything from loss of a relationship to abuse and worse) then the next time someone tries to connect with you, it will stir up feelings. The more damaging the past experiences, the more feelings will get stirred up, the harder it will be to connect in the present moment.

Why does this matter to me?

This great sit-down with new friends made me realize two really important things:

1) I don’t want being present to be a “party trick”: I realized how much I’m really not present in day to day interactions. I was able to sit with my own experience of being present, and it made me realize how much that was missing from my day. Being present shouldn’t be a party trick, I want it to be my way of being. That doesn’t mean you can’t have lighter conversations, social norms are there for a reason, but it does mean I can chose to be conscious about my choices in how I engage with others

20may09_PDT_eye_contact_pic2) Time to appreciate what I’ve got: I realized the “zone” I was in when I was being present is the same kind of zone I find myself in when my wife and I talk. I took the opportunity to appreciate exactly how much we have connected and stayed present in some very difficult times and in some very wonderful times. Every fully present conversation we have changes our relationship for the better (hopefully she agrees!).  It also made me realize I want more. Not just for my romantic relationship with my wife, but with my children, with my friends. Even as I write this post there has been a noticeable difference in how I’ve experienced my family. I’m not expecting myself to be 100% present every moment of every day, but I am choosing to do more.

Why does it matter to YOU?

If you’re up for it – try it. Try being 100% present with your partner, with your friends, with your children, with your dog…. with yourself, even for just one minute.

Do you notice anything different about the other person?face

Do you notice anything different about yourself?

Do you notice anything different about the relationship?

Just notice… and see if you can feel the Power of Presence.